Lectionary Reflections for June 1, 2014

Readings: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11.

It didn’t end with Jesus’ death, or with his resurrection. His death paid for our sins, his resurrection offers us a new life. After the resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for another 40 days, interacting with his disciples, but one day he ascended into heaven, to be reunited with his father, so the holy trinity could be together once again, just like they were at the creation and foundation of the world. Before the act of creation, the holy trinity was together as one, and after Jesus finished what he was sent to the earth to do, the trinity was again unified.

When Jesus ascended up into heaven, he ascended to sit on the right hand of the father, reigning with him. He came to establish a new kingdom and he rules over that kingdom from heaven. Jesus prayed that those left on earth would have unity just like he has unity with the trinity. And yet, most of the time, Christians have division between one another rather than unity. Before he ascended, Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to his disciples.

God has never left us alone. He walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He spoke through Moses and the prophets. He sent Jesus, God in the flesh to live with the humanity he had created. And when Jesus ascended into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit. It’s comforting to know that we are not alone in this journey. He’s communicated in different ways throughout history, but he’s always given us a way to have a relationship with him. 
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Divorce (Follow Up)

Honestly I was surprised at the response I got to my previous post about my upcoming divorce, because it wasn’t in my opinion very well written, and although I have many other topics on my mind, the divorce was the only one I could write any thoughts about. I’m in a weird place emotionally, I’m happy and sad. The kind of response I got to the last post was amazing, and it goes to show me that the topic of divorce is still not something that Christians tend to talk to each other honestly and openly about.

Most of my regular blog readers know that I strive to be honest and authentic in all of my writing; however, I’m not able to go into details about all of the reasons that I am getting divorced because there is another person, my ex-husband, involved. He’s a human being with feelings and thoughts of his own, and his version of the divorce story is different to mine. Out of respect to him and because the aim of this blog is to be edifying, this is not going to be a mudslinging match; I’m not going to sit here and write and put on a public forum the reasons why I’m getting a divorce. The thing is, those that know me best know what happened, those that do know what happened all have their own thoughts and feelings.

So while there are legitimate reasons for the divorce, I’m not sure that it’s helpful, edifying or respectful to blast them on here. I have and will continue to talk to some of you privately, at my discretion. I do want to be of help to those who have genuinely come seeking help and asking questions. I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer those because obviously I am not great at marriage, but if I can help I will try.

I do think it’s important that the Christian community continue to discuss divorce because the reality is it affects all of us in some way. Actually the Christian community needs to begin discussing lots of topics, engaging in non-judgmental dialog in order for us to help each other. Instead of shooting our wounded, we need to be there to help. I’m not saying we should be condoning of sin, but it is possible to have a non-judgmental dialog without condoning sin, in fact I’ve had a few therapists that are very good at it. And for me, by the time I want to actually talk about something that I’ve been struggling with, I already know that it’s wrong, and what I need is understanding and guidance.

So, let us help each other by continuing to discuss important topics, and let us do so without demonizing everyone else, even those who have sinned against us. And I need to work on that goal more than anyone.

Divorce

This coming Monday, my divorce will be final. That’s not how this was supposed to work out. I spent seven years with him; it was supposed to be for life. When I got married, I “just knew” that my marriage would never end in divorce, because I was a Christian and the d-word, as the pastor called it, wasn’t a word that should ever be mentioned. In a lot of fundamentalist churches, divorced people are second-rate citizens, and often are not allowed to serve in the church in any way. Pastors will refuse to officiate a wedding for a couple in which one of the spouses is on their second marriage, unless the first marriage ended in death.

They do this because they claim that divorce is a sin, and actually I don’t have a problem with it being labelled as sin. But really the divorce is just the result of a lot of other sins; it’s the symptom of a marriage covenant that is already irreconcilably broken. In the end, I am the spouse that filed for divorce, which in the eyes of many makes it even worse. And really I’m not here to defend my divorce, my marriage is broken and a lot of it is my fault.

I did try, though. I tried so hard to fix what was broken, tried so hard to change and become a different person. In the end it didn’t work out. When I got married I said many stupid things about marriage being forever no matter what and that mine would never end in divorce because that was ungodly. Yes, those foolish words came back to bite me, as many warned me that they might. I’m now receiving the same judgment that I meted out on others, although I did expect it because that’s how the Bible says that these things work. I realize now that many of the things I said and did to others in similar situations were not helpful and sometimes even very harmful. In the future, I’ll have more compassion for those having a rough time in their marriage.

Although it’s not how I planned my life, God has been there, and he’s been watching out for me, often in ways I haven’t recognized until later. This time last year when I was on my knees crying, begging God to give me a way out of my situation, and working towards that goal, God answered that prayer, but the answer was so terrible and horrific that I didn’t recognize that it was his answer until months later. I lost everything valuable to me in one horrible weekend and had to work to get it back. I’ve learned a lot about what is important in life. I’ve walked alongside others as they’ve suffered some of the same things as I have, and I hope that God can use me in the future as a tool to channel his compassion to others.

Lectionary Reflections for May 25, 2014

The following are reflections on the lectionary readings for May 25, 2014, the sixth Sunday of Easter.

Readings: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21.

This week I want to focus on the reading in Acts 17:22-31, and I was using The Voice translation, because for me it’s like reading the Bible with a fresh set of eyes and it’s really what I need right now. Within Paganism, it’s acceptable to choose which gods to worship from any gods that you choose, and Pagans generally choose to worship a plethora of gods rather than just one. Paul talks about how he walked through Athens and saw lots of gods, and altars to gods, and among those altars and shrines he saw an altar that they had made to the unknown God. It was blatantly obvious that the people of Athens were very religious people, worshipping whichever gods they thought would be best for them.

The difference, Paul told these people, was that the unknown God that they had an altar for had not only created the entire universe (thus he had created the things that these other gods were supposedly the gods of, and had created the wood and stone and precious metals that these other gods were carved out of) but had a power that these other gods did not. The God that was unknown to the Athenians but who they had an altar for, had died, but not only that, he’d resurrected from the dead.

See, the thing that matters most in Christianity isn’t the vast theological differences that we all fight about; the most important thing is that Jesus is alive. He died to save us from our sins, he rose again to change us and to bring about a new kingdom. Christianity is supposed to be a religion that is vibrant and beautiful and life-changing, and yet so often we focus on our differences, fight over culture wars, and divide over disagreements. Jesus is alive, and because of that we need to be unified, we need to love one another, and we need to live like Jesus is alive, as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Although I wasn’t interested in worshipping or serving other gods in Paganism, I was failing to see the power of God, the beauty of Christianity as God intended it to be. I wasn’t wanting to worship the earth, I was wanting to give more honor to the earth as something that God had created, and I do think we need to be better stewards of it and be green and cut down on pollution and things that destroy the earth, but it’s also important to focus more on the one who made that earth, the one who created the moon that cycles through its phases and changes the tides. Without God, there would be none of that, there would just be God.

My focus needs to change from worrying about how Christian people have treated me or how they act, knowing that Jesus is alive and is working on them and therefore I don’t need to worry about it. I need to focus on God as the creator and sustainer of all, while doing my part to take care of his creation, and of living the new kingdom principles where I treat people the way God intends for his precious creation to be treated. 

Structure and Ritual

When I started dabbling with Wicca and Witchcraft, I did so for specific reasons, although I didn’t really understand those reasons at the time, and when I was challenged to figure out what those reasons were, I needed help to do so. But my therapist and I came up with several, and I decided I was going to research these needs and reasons and find ways to meet those needs within Christianity. We came up with eight different reasons, but right now I’m focusing on one of them: the aspect of ritual and structure. Some of the Wiccan rituals, such as circle casting for example, are very fascinating and exciting to me; I also like the structure of them. I never would have thought that I was looking for ritual and structure, particularly considering how that worked out for me in fundamentalism and how I have tried to escape that.

Maybe it’s not structure that I’m against, but rather rules that make no sense and that are almost impossible to keep anyway. Anyway, as I was thinking about things I might could do within Christianity to feed my need for ritual and structure, I thought about something that I was drawn to and going to participate in before I started messing with the Witchcraft, and that was study the lectionary. The lectionary is something that is used by a lot of different Christian churches, and of the churches that use it, they all read and study the same Scriptures every week.

My friend Louis has written a great piece giving background on the lectionary and reasonswhy it should be used, and he said it so much better than I could have so I am just going to refer you to his article. I like that the lectionary is structured around the Christian year and that certain seasons have certain colors etc, and I’m hoping that will keep at bay my need for ritual. As I’ve started digging in to the lectionary and following along with what some others have written about the readings, I’ve realized how much I like it.

So with that said, I’m going to be blogging through the lectionary, I know that Rachel Held Evans is blogging through it also and she has a great piece up this week for the coming Sunday. Other good sources for meditations on the Revised Common Lectionary (which is what I will be using here) are the “Keeping Holy Time” books edited by Douglas E. Wingeier and Sojourners magazine’s feature called “Living the Word” where they also discuss each week’s readings. I am hoping that this study will be profitable not only for me but maybe for others who read here. It’s a new journey for me and I already like what I have studied so far. I need to keep my mind engaged, I tend to see God in the intellectual but also the spiritual, so I’m hoping this is a good fit for me. 

MLM Part 5

I’ve been involved in three different MLM companies, and almost been sucked in by several others. The ones I have been involved in are Jamberry, Stampin’ Up and Avon. At first I didn’t realize that Avon was a predatory MLM like the others because it seemed different, the start-up costs were small ($10 when I signed up but I believe it has gone up since then), you weren’t expected to buy inventory (or so I thought), there were no quotas, and the commission plan was better than most. I wasn’t ever really good at recruiting, and so I focused on sales, and when I started both Stampin’ Up (from which I sold absolutely nothing and had people show absolutely zero interest whatsoever), and Jamberry (to which I made ONE sale to my sister, then when I really tried the products and realized how terrible they were, I didn’t feel right selling them to her and returned them), I swore I would focus solely on sales and only sign people up who actually asked me to.

But as I’ve looked around and seen lately how much damage these MLM companies have done to women and families, I can’t in good conscience support any of them. To me and the way my brain works, it means I can’t sell the products, and I can’t buy the products, even on Ebay or Amazon or whatever. So as much as I love doTerra and Young Living essential oils, for instance, I will order from a company who doesn’t use the MLM scheme as their business model (and I’ll save money for doing so). It means that I won’t participate in any more home or online parties, or do any fundraisers. It means that I have to quit Avon and find some other products to replace the ones I love so much of theirs. I realize that to some people, this is a radical thing, but this is the right decision for me.

As a Christian, I can’t be involved in these predatory schemes. As a feminist, I can’t be involved in something that damages women so much. I want to say that I’m really sorry to my friends for taking advantage of that friendship by trying to sell products to them. I love my friends for who they are and not what they will buy off of me and I’m sorry I ever let these schemes into our friendship at all. I was never friends with anyone for their dollars, but I know that at least one or two felt like I was taking advantage of them, and while I didn’t see it at the time, I guess I was and I hate that. Please know that I’m not going to try to sell you any more MLM crap, and while I will advertise my book when it come out, I’m not going to go around trying to convince my friends to buy them.

MLM’s and me have finally come to a parting of ways.

Mirror, mirror

Mirror mirror, on the wall, who is the biggest hypocrite of them all? Oh, that’s right, that would be me. My spiritual life seems to go in cycles of normalcy and then frustration and then epiphanies. The last two months have been the frustration and this weekend was the epiphany.  Thanks to some friends, I had some really intimate moments with God this weekend, and it was just what I needed. I had veered off the path in a pretty big way, although it’s evident with the battle inside of me that I was trying hard to stay on track. I was frustrated with Christianity, frustrated with God, frustrated with life, frustrated with everyone around me, even frustrated with myself.

So I began to heed the alluring call of Wicca and Witchcraft. I did my research, I talked to people I knew who were Pagan, Wiccans or Witches. I felt like I could incorporate God and Christianity into these religions and blend them all together. I was becoming more and more comfortable in using Pagan practices within the context of Christianity, and as the allure got stronger, I kept exploring. I cut myself off from a lot of friends, not really on purpose, but I figured if I talked to them they might figure out something was up and by this time I was aware that most of them would not like it and honestly I was afraid they’d ditch me, just like all the people did when I left fundamentalism.

At first this all seemed to fit really well, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with what I was getting involved in, but I couldn’t figure out why. I was attracted to it in the first place because I felt like Pagans took more responsibility for themselves and their actions, and they focused on themselves and what they could fix. The main premise of Wicca is really that you can do anything you like, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone including yourself, and I was really drawn to that. After all, I’ve been through some really hurtful and confusing circumstances these last six months, things that I have not been able to make sense of.

With the things I have been through it has felt like most Christians aren’t even interested in living the way Jesus encouraged us to live, it seems like they just want power and prestige, and that they think they are perfect. I’m saying this is what it has felt like and seemed like, but this perception is probably not reality. I’ve accused the people of God of being mean, ugly, fake, and hypocritical among other things. I’ve been very lonely these last few months, felt like I was going it alone. But this weekend, I saw that I’m just as hypocritical and fake and mean and ugly as those I’ve accused of being the same.

I made an ugly face at the Walmart greeter because he said something really stupid to me and I was annoyed, even though I know he’s disabled. I have yelled at my children even though I’m trying to use positive parenting techniques. I’ve been rude to people who were trying to help me or whose company had caused a problem for me and I was being ugly to them. I’ve ignored people I probably should have talked to. I’ve focused on all the hurts and wrongs that have been committed against me, accusing others of hypocrisy, when the biggest hypocrite is me.

MLM Part 4

Working for MLM companies really did a number on my self-esteem, which was already shattered from other experiences in my life. I felt like I just didn’t have what it took, wasn’t cut out to be successful, wasn’t positive enough and that I hadn’t tried hard enough, when in reality I’d busted my butt. When I wasn’t successful, the people higher up insinuated that I just hadn’t tried hard enough because after all, “the product is so great that it sells itself!” Whenever I was struggling and had real issues with the website, or selling things, I was told that I was just “too negative”.  In fact the peer pressure in these companies to not say one negative word about the company even if it sucks is astronomical.

Basically, every problem in MLM is blamed on the poor sucker that was desperate enough to sign up in the first place. The truth is that some companies really do suck and really do produce crappy products, and it doesn’t matter how positive you are or how hard you try, you’re not going to successfully sell a lousy product or recruit people for a bad business. Like I said Jamberry has been the most incredibly miserable MLM I’ve ever been involved with. You can buy similar products for less than half the price from Walmart, Target or the drugstore, without all the misery that goes along with being involved with the company. I was told by the Jamberry ladies that I just needed to “have a more positive attitude” and also “well yes, we all made money the first week but some people take longer to get established maybe you are one of those”. They are desperate for recruits and desperate to keep those recruits and to force those recruits to buy product.

MLM companies don’t like their structure or their company criticized and they don’t like questions of any kind. It’s taken me a while to realize that most MLM companies are just like cults, the same kind of thing I experienced in fundamentalism are the things that MLM’s put their recruits through, which isn’t right, especially as people pay to be a part of the MLM. Although that makes it doubly like a cult because cults require tithes or donations too. So basically MLM is a sales cult that works like a religious cult, abusing its members and sucking all their resources out of them. The only people that benefit are the ones who started the cult and maybe the other couple of people at the top. The rest of the people in the cult are just tools to be used and abused. For my own emotional and spiritual health I can’t be involved in abusive cults of any kind whether it be sales or religion.

Quest for Faith – Part 5

So I have a confession. I’ve been seriously struggling with my faith, with Christianity, with what I believe. There are a lot of people, even Christian people, who have been very, very hurtful towards me with all the things I have been going through with my children, in fact attacks seem even worse coming from Christian people sometimes. I’ve been struggling with that as well as the way Christianity is practiced in America, having had the experience of growing up in a different culture where being a Christian doesn’t equal power and privilege and social conservatism. In fact I grew up in a culture where being a Christian wasn’t popular like it is in America.

I’ve been so disillusioned and frustrated that I’ve been exploring other religions, things that I have felt drawn to all my life and struggling against because I thought they were wrong. I’ve been exploring aspects of Paganism/Wicca/Witchcraft, because of some previous experiences. I’ve been deeply researching and keeping a journal and all of my experiences and thoughts. At first I thought it was all fitting like a glove, but I’m really not sure about that right now. I wasn’t going to ditch Jesus, I was looking to still worship God within the context of Paganism. Please understand that, while I was wanting to reject cultural Christianity, I didn’t want to reject Jesus.

I’m extremely frustrated with the political conservatism that is somehow connected with Christianity in the US. It seems so totally against what Jesus taught that it seems that it’s actually going against what he taught in so many places. And yet it’s so deeply entrenched in culture here that people don’t even realize it. While conservatives play the persecution of Christianity card, everyone else realizes that Christians aren’t persecuted in this country: not even close, they hold positions and power and privilege simply because of their Christian faith. This has been disappointing and frustrating when I have realized that people just don’t understand it.

And yet, the problem may not be everyone else and what I see as incompatible ideas. I claim that everyone else is hypocritical even though they are living what they genuinely believe, even if I believe that their expression of Christianity is wrong. But the problem with that is that even if I am right (which I may or may not be), is that I’m the biggest hypocrite I know. I’m the one that claims to be a pacifist (which I am) and yet yells at people when I’m frustrated. I claim to be against violence (and I am) and yet I say things violently when I’m having issues with my temper. So if I want to reject Christianity based on the behavior of other people, maybe I should reject it based on my own behavior.

This isn’t to say that all that stuff is excusable, it’s not. But like I’ve been working on in counselling, the only person I can change is myself, and if I focus on everyone else and what they are doing and how they hurt me, I’ll always be feeling bad and cynical. But if I focus on what I can do about how I’m feeling, well, that’s a whole lot better, and I can change that. 

MLM Part 3

Every time I was ever involved in any kind of MLM company, I always felt guilty sharing the products and the opportunity with people that I felt were friends, because I wanted great relationships with my friends and didn’t want to use them to make money. The difference would be if it was a product that the friend wanted and would benefit from. I also felt uncomfortable bringing any promotional materials, catalogues, samples or orders to church with me, and I did do it sometimes and I always thought of the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple every time I did bring something MLM related to church, or even if people who already got their orders handed me a check. I’m not saying that buying and selling stuff to people that we go to church with is wrong, or that doing so at church is wrong, but for me it made me feel uncomfortable enough that it ended up being wrong for me.

Needless to say that during the several years that I have been involved in a few different MLM schemes, I have done things that I look back on and regret in a pretty big way. This doesn’t mean that MLM companies are bad, although I do have some serious concerns about many of them that I have looked into, but for me it is not something I want to do anymore because it doesn’t fit with my belief system.

I also think that MLM companies prey on women; particularly stay at home mothers, and that they can be a trap that women fall into because they don’t see any other way of making income at the present time. From the research I have done and the things I have been involved with it does seem like the amount of Christian women involved in such companies is higher than secular women. This could be a problem because there are certain segments of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity that teach that women have to stay at home and not work a regular job and some even discourage women from pursuing higher education, which is why I think that MLM’s can appeal to Christian women in particular. There are also some MLM companies which specifically claim to be Christian companies, and I have the same issues with those as I do the regular MLM’s.

The long and the short of it for my experience is that God created me to write, not to recruit people to sell the latest product that happens to be fashionable at the time. I have learned very specifically that I have neither the patience nor the right marketing skills to be involved in these kinds of companies, and I favor the truth (even if it appears to be negative) and my own personal beliefs over selling products. That and I’m terrible at marketing, which is a shame for someone who is pretty savvy with communications and who is writing a book. I might need to work on my marketing skills some more.